About Jane Irish's Vision

Painting in egg tempera on large-scale canvas, paper and Tyvek, I infuse sumptuous interiors with memories of colonialism and orientalism, in service to contextualize the antiwar movement of my time, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I incorporate imagery from my own travels through France and Vietnam, manipulating depth and angle to blur distinctions between inside and outside, landscape and décor. I have incorporated text in previous bodies of work, combining labyrinthine interiors with the motifs and poetry of Vietnam War veterans. Alongside my painting output, I create ceramic vases that address questions of beauty and meaning through decorative and cultural patterns. Ceramic vessels take the form of a cirque (an amphitheater-like mountain valley) and also contemplate blue and white Vietnamese wares. Continuing my interest in the legacy of the Vietnam war, the shape is symbolic of the ancient spiritual landscape of Vietnam, and the natural amphitheater settings in which the American anti-war protest movement chose to rally and march.

The tradition of ceiling painting, so vital from the Renaissance through the Rococo, was associated with the spiritual, often depicting an apotheosis. But that tradition is also surprisingly political, incorporating contemporary figures and events. I also am exploring dimensions of connection of spirit and polity and pursuing a visual practice that communicates it.

My studio work investigates the group and its relation to architecture. Taking inspiration from the tapestry plan paintings of Goya and groups by Cy Twombly (Lepanto), Barnett Newman (Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani), Agnes Martin (The Islands I–XII,). I recently completed a creation myth cycle of paintings (the "Vietnam reparations”) inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1848 prose poem Eureka. His infinitely collapsing and expanding universe and mobile conceptions of time and location undergird my decade-long painterly inquiry into the histories of Western imperialism and resistance knotted around the Vietnam War.

In August I began painting monumental canvases for a architectural site inspired again by Eureka, but also by the Baroque palazzo form. In this temporary installation, opening in April 2018 for Philadelphia Contemporary, I will expand on my years of painted explorations of colonialism, opulence, the violence and futility of American conflicts overseas, and the anti-war activists who resist them. Working in collaboration with Fairmount Park Conservancy, I will transform the historic Lemon Hill mansion, filling it with a floor-to-ceiling installation of paintings and ceramics. I envision that the two floors of Lemon Hill will serve as antipodes—hemispheric opposites, each filled with my dialectical imagery of past and present, east and west, and war and peace. Its interiors coated with swirls of painted vignettes, Lemon Hill will become a site where visitors consider how activists might serve as an antidote for past sins, and art’s ability to foresee the wildest scientific futures.

Lemon Hill is a turning point in my practice, a huge undertaking based on the preserverence of my visual research. In 2004, this process began as I researched, travelled, and accomplished nineteen en plein air paintings along the landscape of 1970 Vietnam veterans' resistance march through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Traveling to Vietnam in 2008, 2010, and 2012, I expanded the narrative, by concentrating on the beauty of Vietnam and the spirit of the Vietnamese people. They triumphed over French colonialism and American imperialism; and I found the stories of American veterans in resistance are similarly triumphant. In 2011 and 2012, I also explored on-site the history of the French East India Company and French Foreign Mission through visual vocabulary of Malouiniere chateaus owned by 18th century Breton shipping magnates. In 2013, I was invited to paint in Florence, employing my method of gathering and reconfiguring visual experience by alla prima painting. There, I realized that, by painting it directly, I had made a study of the historic center of painting itself. I reveled in the mannerist figure composition in heavenly non space, or the dynamically stacked figure compositions suggesting Platonic forms, and begun to understand viscerally the ways these paintings placed the beholder in a ever changing perception which participated in Renaissance philosophical views of the individual and God. Since then, I have painted over thirty-five paintings in Florence, Baghleria, and Palermo.


Irish received her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (1977) and her MFA from Queens College, City Univeristy of New York (1980). She has received grants and awards from the New York Council on the Arts (CAPS 1981), NEA (1982), the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (1982,84); the Independence Foundation (2008), and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant (2009); Pew Fellowships in the Arts (2011). Recent residencies are Joan Mitchell Center New Orleans (2016), Due South, Palermo Italy (2016) Carmargo Bau Cassis France (2014), and Klots Residency Lehon France (2011). She has been featured in numerous group exhibitions at venues such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design; the Paul Robeson Gallery, Rutgers University, Newark; the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery; the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, The Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. In 2007, her work has been seen in New York City venues including the New York First Annual Contemporary Art Invitational at the Salmagundi Club and at the Aidan Savoy Gallery. Irish was a recognized painter during the East Village art scene era, showing regularly at Sharpe Gallery, NY from 1981-89. She has also worked as the Artistic Director of Chester Springs Studio, Chester Springs Pa, where she curated several projects featuring both Philadelphia-based and nationally recognized artists, receiving major funding from the Pew Exhibitions Initiative their inaugural year for the exhibition "Reenactment/Rapprochement.” In 2005, she organized a major exhibition called "Operation Rapid American Withdrawal, 1970/2005 Exhibition," at the Crane Arts Ice Box Gallery in Philadelphia.

Irish's work can be found in public collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania; LaSalle University, Philadelphia; Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Women’s Hall of Fame Seneca Falls New York; and numerous private collections. Reviews of her work have appeared in major publications, such as The Village Voice, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Art in America, ArtForum, Arts Magazine, ArtNews, and Flash Art.